To this point, she’s made greater than 200 jackets — and no two are the identical. She offers them to family and friends and, generally, complete strangers.
“It’s a pleasure for me to work with materials,” Epley mentioned from her dwelling in Lexington, Va., the place she spends most days making artwork. “I’ve at all times loved it a lot.”
Through the years, Epley’s customized creations have been on public show in a number of trend and artwork exhibits. The latest was held at Kendal at Lexington — the senior dwelling group the place she lives.
Epley started making jackets in 1980. She began by crafting one for herself, and as compliments poured in, she created them for different individuals.
“I’ve at all times cherished garments, so I simply determined I’d make a jacket for myself,” she mentioned, explaining that, for enjoyable, she quilted horses and a colourful carousel on her garment.
Whereas carrying the jacket on a cruise together with her husband, “two girls got here as much as me and mentioned, ‘The place did you get that jacket?’ I used to be so flattered,” Epley recalled. “It simply went from there.”
Associates, household and complete strangers started requesting customized jackets by Epley, and he or she acquired straight to work.
Earlier than starting a jacket, Epley asks the wearer questions on type and shades: What colours do you want subsequent to your face? Would you like a collar?
Then, she instructs them to “make a listing of all of the issues that matter,” and embrace what they love most of their lives, their hobbies and what they wish to keep in mind.
For Ursula Keeley, 87, chief on her listing have been her household and her marriage.
“This jacket actually represents my life and my household’s life,” mentioned Keeley, who acquired her jacket 10 years in the past, when her husband was very ailing. “If there’s a fireplace, that is the one factor I’d take and run.”
Keeley wore the jacket — which showcases illustrations of her kids, beloved household pets, entrance doorways and cherished objects — to her husband’s funeral. She referred to as it a “household treasure.”
“It’s an heirloom,” she mentioned. “All the pieces is on this jacket.”
Every jacket is a “labor of affection,” Epley defined, including that she typically offers the clothes as presents and, in different instances, costs just for the price of the material, often between $100 and $150.
It takes her roughly two months to make one jacket, which she crafts utilizing washable cotton material and a stitching machine. She stitches collectively totally different materials to create intricate photos and designs, and he or she additionally paints patterns and objects onto the fabric. She seems on-line for inspiration.
The result’s a deeply private piece of clothes, which stitches collectively essentially the most salient parts of an individual’s life.
Sandra Blanton’s jacket options symbols of her favourite locations, together with New York Metropolis — the place she labored for 40 years as a literary agent — Paris, London and Venice. The pastel blue jacket additionally showcases noteworthy books she labored on, in addition to shrubs and flowers to symbolize her inexperienced thumb.
“I put on it as typically as I can,” mentioned Blanton, 83, who acquired her jacket in 2007. “I really like speaking about it to all people. At any time when I put on it, I get numerous consideration.”
As with Keeley, Blanton’s jacket is her most prized possession.
“That is essentially the most useful factor I personal, as a result of it’s an authentic murals,” she continued. “No person has something prefer it, and no one may have executed it besides this unimaginable lady.”
Epley — who has two kids and one grandson — mentioned seeing individuals carrying and having fun with her jackets brings her immense achievement.
“It’s one thing I like to do,” she mentioned. “It offers me nice pleasure.”
On the trend present at her senior group in October, Melou Piegari, 81, strutted with delight. Her jacket contains a Virginia Navy Institute constructing — the place she met her husband, who taught there for greater than 30 years.
The jacket, she mentioned, represents “our life collectively and our youngsters,” Piegari mentioned. “Nancy was extraordinarily inventive and enjoyable to work with.”
“She is so participating and inquisitive about individuals, and I may see in her how a lot it meant to her,” Piegari added. “It’s very particular to me.”
Not too long ago, Epley began winding down with crafting jackets — given how time-consuming and difficult they are often. She is now centered on making customized wall hangings.
“The spirit is prepared, however I query my capacity to do the element,” Epley mentioned.
The wall hangings are an analogous type, she mentioned, however far much less strenuous to create.
“I’ve a worktable, and I simply at all times love having one thing happening,” Epley mentioned. “It’s a serious interest, and a serious pleasure to create.”
Epley believes making artwork has contributed to her lengthy life.
“I’ve simply lucked out, and I’ve cherished it,” she mentioned. “One is so fortunate when you’ve got one thing that you just like to do.”